The case of Engel v Vitale challenged the recitation of a standard prayer each day in New York’s public schools. In its decision, the Court struck down the practice. State-sponsored prayer in schools was wholly inconsistent with the Establishment.
In West Virginia State Board of Education v Barnette, the Court said that Jehovah’s Witnesses could refuse to salute the flag. Jehovah’s Witnesses view pledging allegiance to the flag as a form of idolatry prohibited by the Bible. Their right to do so was protected under their First Amendment rights to religious freedom and free speech.
In Lemon v Kurtzman, using public funds to support private religious schools was unconstitutional. This case established a three-point “Lemon test” to determine if and when a government action violates the Establishment Clause. To be constitutional, a government action must have a secular, or nonreligious, purpose; neither help nor hurt religion; not result in an excessive entanglement of the government and religion.
In the case of Brandenburg v Ohio, a Ku Klux Klan leader was arrested for giving a speech advocating illegal activities. In its decision, the Court offered a two-part test to determine whether a clear and present danger exists that might justify suppressing free speech. First, such speech has to be directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action. Second, the speech must be likely to incite or produce such action. The Court found that the Klan leader’s speech, though containing hateful statements, was unlikely to produce any unlawful actions.
In Texas v Johnson, the Court concluded that flag burning as an expression of opinion was protected symbolic speech. Gregory Lee Johnson had been arrested in Texas for burning a flag to protest government policies. His actions violated a state law against flag desecration.It said that a state could not prohibit such actions, even if it found them offensive.
The Near case involved a newspaper that Minnesota officials wanted to shut down. The paper had published articles exposing political corruption. In Near v. Minnesota, the Court declared such attempts at prior restraint to be unconstitutional. The Court declared that a government had no right to call for prior restraint. Keeping information from being published could be allowed only under very special circumstances, such as protecting national security. If officials were worried about possibly libelous articles, they could sue the publisher after the materials were in print.
In the United States v. Miller case, the Court supported the conviction of two men who had failed to register a sawed-off shotgun. The Court’s decision directly tied gun ownership to militias. Because militias never used sawed-off shotguns for common defense, the Court determined that government had the right to regulate such weapons.
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The case of Katz v. United States hinged on recordings of a suspect’s conversation made from a public phone booth. Because the recording device was placed outside the booth and recorded only the suspect’s voice, the police believed they did not need a warrant. The Court disagreed and concluded that a warrant was required because the suspect had a “reasonable expectation of privacy” in a phone booth.
In the case of Terry v. Ohio, three men’s behavior caused a police officer to suspect that they were about to rob a store. After questioning the men, the officer frisked them by patting down the outside of their clothing. Two of the suspects had guns, and they were later convicted for carrying concealed weapons. The men appealed their conviction claiming that the officer did not have probable cause to frisk them. The Court decided that the officer’s observations provided adequate cause for the search. His actions and suspicions were reasonable given the behavior of the suspects.
In Miranda v. Arizona, Ernesto Miranda was arrested at his home and taken in custody to a police station where he was identified by the complaining witness. He was then interrogated by two police officers for two hours, which resulted in a signed, written confession. The Court set forth a procedure for ensuring that suspects know their rights. These rights of the accused became known as Miranda rights.
In the case of Gideon v. Wainwright, Clarence Earl Gideon was unable to afford an attorney. He asked the court to provide him free legal counsel, however, Florida courts provided such services only in death penalty cases. The judge turned him down and Gideon was found guilty and sentenced to five years in prison. Gideon filed an appeal that eventually made its way to the Supreme Court. The justices sided with Gideon, arguing that the Sixth Amendment guarantee of legal counsel should not depend on the defendant’s ability to pay.
In the case of Sheppard v. Maxwell, Sam Sheppard’s wife was murdered at the couple’s home. Sheppard claimed that an armed intruder had knocked him unconscious and then killed his wife. The Cleveland press covered the story relentlessly, in a manner that implied Sheppard’s guilt. Sheppard appealed his conviction arguing that biased press coverage had prevented him from getting a fair trial. The Court overturned the murder conviction, agreeing that coverage of the trial had “inflamed and prejudiced the public.” Although the Court acknowledged the media’s First Amendment rights, it said that press coverage should not be allowed to interfere with a defendant’s right to due process. In cases where intense media coverage might unfairly influence a trial, the trial should be moved to another location or the jury should be isolated from all news coverage.
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In Furman v. Georgia, the Court focused on the death penalty. It concluded that capital punishment was cruel and unusual when it was inconsistently and unequally applied from one case to another. Too often people convicted of a capital crime received very different penalties. One might be sentenced to life in prison while the other was condemned to death. The Court’s decision put a sudden halt to all executions in the United States.
In Gregg v. Georgia, the Court concluded that the death penalty was constitutional under the new laws. As a result, capital punishment became a sentencing option in most states.
In the case of Griswold v. Connecticut, Estelle Griswold, an official with the Planned Parenthood League of Connecticut, had been arrested for providing medical advice to married couples on how to prevent pregnancy. Her actions violated a Connecticut law that prohibited the use of contraceptives. In its decision, the Court declared that the law violated marital privacy rights. The Court said that it was an implied right in the First, Third, and Fourth amendments. The Ninth Amendment provides further support by stating that a right need not be cited in the Constitution to be valid.
In the case of United States v. Morrison, the Violence Against Women Act that allowed victims of domestic violence to sue their attackers in federal court. The Court struck down this law saying that violent crime between individuals was an issue for the states not the federal government.
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